New designs – back to the beginning

I think I am just about recovered. Art in the Pen was simply one of the best events I’ve ever done. It was so well organised and a huge number of visitors came along, a massive congratulations is due to all involved in the event.

Art in the PenBarry Foster of Hawksbys art gallery in Haworth, in an act of generosity and kindness so typical of him and his lovely wife Claire, loaded up all my gear in his van and took it over to Skipton and even helped me set up my pen ; stupidly I thought I would have managed it myself, but even with the two of us it still took all day (sorry for the pics, I only had my phone).

Art in the PenThere wasn’t a single hitch, apart from the main tapestry looking a bit creased after being rolled up, but apart from that all was good. I was thrilled with how the space worked and I feel I now have the set up I need for future events and it is very adaptable to different sized spaces.

There were several sales and heaps of interest, and lots of comments about how different my work was. There was a massive response to the poster sharing the story behind the Found Drowned tapestry; I think it touched a nerve with a lot of people.

Art in the PenI was really lucky to have two fabulous neighbours. Tony Dexter is an artist whose work couldn’t have been more different from mine, being very bright and vibrant; we were both first-time Art in the Penners and we had a total hoot. On the other side was Hugh Leishman, a woodturner and carver who I had long known by reputation, not least for the kindness of himself and his wife. I was thrilled to finally get a chance to meet them properly.

There were many other maker folk there I knew, and the whole event was very social, it was clear the event was much valued by the participants. I am really sorry I won’t be doing Craft in the Pen there later in the year, but I’ll be at the Art Market in Holmfirth. At the weekend I also received the very happy news that I’ve been selected for Crafted by Hand in Masham – again it is an event that is talked about with much affection by makers, so I am really excited to take part. I’ll be there with some frame looms, so there will be plenty of opportunities to have a go. This will be on 1st November.

After the event I had a few days genuine breathing space. After a bit of rest, and unpacking, and a studio sort out to make paints and paper and brushes more accessible (and thus more likely to be used!), it seemed a good time to set myself to experimenting and realising some ideas that have been brewing for a goodly while.

I’ve always been interested in the similarities between tapestry and archaeology, that both are slowly made up of layers. This informed much of the new work I exhibited at Art in the Pen and which I talked about in my last post, heavily textured pieces which were inspired by stratigraphy. Archaeology is an inevitable pull for me, I’ve been digging since I was a teenager and eventually went onto earn a PhD and spent over twenty years at Bradford University’s archaeology department. I remember reading somewhere that for inspiration one could do much worse than look to what first interested you as a child, because that is something unadulterated. For me, as a bit of a nerdy kid, it was DMVs, or Deserted Medieval Villages, until I came across my first skeleton.

Gainsthorpe Medieval Village – Image from

These are exactly what they say on the tin, abandoned settlements, often associated with the devastation left in the wake of the Black Death epidemic. All that is left are earthworks suggesting roadways, houses, plots of land, perhaps a church still standing, and usually encased in corrugated fields of ‘ridge and furrow’ left by the ancient ploughs. There has always been something intriguing to me about them and their similarities to one another; the stark lines of their plans hinting at untold lives and stories beneath the surface. I guess there is something about them that also reminded me of the once-beguiling maps found in the end papers of children’s books.

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Terry Frost – Walk along the Quay – 1950

I do enjoy the freedom to explore stories which tapestries give me, but the more I’ve been experimenting with textured tapestries, the more I’ve been wanting to realise some of my ideas for abstracts. This has also been fuelled by a visit to an exhibition of Terry Frost’s work at Leeds Art Gallery this summer.

Needless to say I loved the sombre colour palette he often used, especially in his early work, but I also loved the idea that his morning walks at St Ives served as the inspiration for the abstracts, that it was possible to explore something real so abstractly.

Further research lead me to his contemporary Peter Lanyon and his interest in aerial views of the landscape. I soon found myself seeking out plans of DMVs and reinterpreting them into abstract designs.

Kirkby Hall DMV – Design for a tapestry

I am quietly fizzing with excitement. I feel so much of myself is coming together in these designs, my love of the medieval, of mythology and early literature, my past as an archaeologist, previous attempts to ‘do something’ with crop marks and aerial photography, of untold stories, of the macabre, of colour and shape and mid-century art, and themes such as abandonment and survival. There are so many DMVs to explore, and I am looking forward to investigating other types of site too.

Nobold DMV – Design for a tapestry

I have a lot of work to do, figuring out how I can realise these into large scale tapestries, but my frame looms are warped ready for sampling and I hope it won’t be too long before I am warping up the big loom. What I do know is they will be heavily textured, mirroring something of the shapes of buried structures and ploughed fields.

West Knighton DMV – Design for a tapestry

So that’s where I’m heading next, right back where I started. They say you should never go back, but what do they know? Wish me luck!

2 thoughts on “New designs – back to the beginning

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